Once again Malcolm McDowell plays Mick Travis, who comes face to face with an even more troubled society than in If. . . (1968).
Here, he has become a conformist, caught up in rigid philosophies. Travis is now an ambitious coffee salesman (as McDowell himself had been before taking up acting) whose sights are unswervingly set on success. Travelling around and through society, trying to get up the ladder, he gets all the breaks.
Door after door is opened to him – and just as mysteriously is slammed shut in his face. He is repeatedly used and abused, and everyone he trusts eventually disappoints him.
From torture and confession into falsely admitting communist alliance, to a hospital where a mad doctor experiments horribly with human bodies, and to becoming an exporter of illegal honey for purposes of war, Mick gradually loses his faith in humanity along with his sunny optimism.
It’s a stylised narrative, very carefully directed by Lindsay Anderson (only his third film) with a surreal approach.
Anderson appears himself at the end in a potentially confusing epilogue. In fact, the same actors appear again and again in different roles and the story is strikingly intercut with scenes of Alan Price‘s band during rehearsals (Price provided the great rock score for the film).
Images of innocence and wonder are followed by images of horror, like the sequence at the human-animal transplant institute. All these elements fit together remarkably well, presenting a cynical overview of society.
McDowell is great as the wide-eyed and gullible epic traveller who has to move from two-bit salesman to nuclear spy, international courier to lonely tramp, and welfare worker to film star.
The handful of talented support players sharing a bucket-load of background roles between them are Arthur Lowe (certainly a long way from Dad’s Army), Anthony Nicholls, Vivian Pickles, Rachel Roberts and Mona Washbourne. But the best of these secondary players is Sir Ralph Richardson.
Michael Arnold (Mick) Travis
Sir James Burgess/Monty
Gloria Rowe/Madame Paillard/Mrs Richards
Mr Duff/Charlie Johnson/Dr Munda
Professor Stewart/Dr Millar
Factory chairman/Prison governor
John Stone/Col. Steiger
Supt. Barlow/Insp. Carding
Duke of Belminster